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Robin Becker

Robin Becker was born in 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned a BA and MA from Boston University and taught for seventeen years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She is the author of The Black Bear Inside Me (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018); Tiger Heron (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014); Domain of Perfect Affection (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006); The Horse Fair (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000); All-American Girl (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), which won the 1996 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry; Giacometti’s Dog (1990); Backtalk (Alice James Books, 1982); and Personal Effects (Alice James Books, 1977).

About her work, Stephen Dunn has said: “Robin Becker achieves what may be one of the early twenty first century’s most difficult accomplishments—to write a credible poetry of affirmation. In the doing, she doesn’t pretty up the world. Rather, she finds language that embraces our dualities, our many-selved presences, regularly demonstrating her kind of perfect affection.”

Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications such as American Poetry Review, the Boston Globe, Gettysburg Review, and Ploughshares. Her honors include the 1997 Virginia Faulkner Prize for Excellence in Writing from Prairie Schooner magazine and fellowships from the Mary Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition to serving as poetry editor for The Women’s Review of Books, Becker writes a column for the WRB on poetry and the poetry scene called “Field Notes.” She is a professor of English and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University.


Select Bibliography

The Black Bear Inside Me (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018)
Tiger Heron (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)
Domain of Perfect Affection (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006)
The Horse Fair (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000)
All-American Girl (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996)
Giacometti’s Dog (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990)
Backtalk (Alice James Books, 1982)
Personal Effects (Alice James Books, 1977)

 

By This Poet

7

Against Pleasure

Worry stole the kayaks and soured the milk.
Now, it’s jellyfish for the rest of the summer
and the ozone layer full of holes.
Worry beats me to the phone.
Worry beats me to the kitchen,
and all the food is sorry. Worry calcifies
my ears against music; it stoppers my nose
against barbecue. All films end badly.
Paintings taunt with their smug convictions.
In the dark, Worry wraps her long legs
around me, promises to be mine forever.

Thugs hijacked all the good parking spaces.
There’s never a good time for lunch.
And why, my mother asks, must you track
beach sand into the apartment?
No, don’t bother with books,
not reading much these days.
And who wants to walk the boardwalk anyway,
with scam artists who steal your home and savings?
Watch out for talk that sounds too good to be true.
You, she says pointing at me,
don’t worry so much.

Man of the Year

My father tells the story of his life

and he repeats The most important thing:
          to love your work.
I always loved my work. I was a lucky man.

This man who makes up half of who I am,
         this blusterer
who tricked the rich, outsmarting smarter men,

gave up his Army life insurance plan
          (not thinking of the future
wife and kids) and brokered deals with two-faced

rats who disappeared his cash but later overpaid
         for building sites.
In every tale my father plays outlaw, a Robin Hood

for whom I'm named, a type of yeoman
         refused admission
into certain clubs. For years he joined no guild—

no Drapers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant
         Tailors, Salters, Vintners—
but lived on prescience and cleverness.

He was the self-inventing Polish immigrant's
         Son, transformed
By American tools into Errol Flynn.

As he speaks, I remember the phone calls
         during meals—
an old woman dead in apartment two-twelve

or burst pipes and water flooding rooms.
         Hatless,
he left the house and my mother's face

assumed the permanent worry she wore,
         forced to watch him
gamble the future of the semi-detached house,

our college funds, and his weekly payroll.
         Manorial halls
of Philadelphia his Nottingham,

my father fashioned his fraternity
         without patronage
or royal charters but a mercantile

swagger, finding his Little John, Tinker,
         and Allen-a-Dale.
Wholesalers, retailers, in time they resembled

the men they set themselves against.
         Each year they roast and toast
one member, a remnant of the Grocer's Feast

held on St. Anthony's Day, when brothers
         communed and dined
on swan, capon, partridges, and wine.

They commission a coat of arms, a song,
         and honor my father—
exemplary, self-made, without debt—

as Man of the Year, a title he reveres
          for the distinguished
peerage he joins, the lineage of merry men.

Angel Supporting St. Sebastian

Shot with arrows and left for dead,
against the angel's leg, Sebastian sinks.
In time, he'll become the patron

saint of athletes and bookbinders.
But for now, who wouldn't want to be
delivered into the sculpted arms

of this seraph, his heavenly
shoulders and biceps?
The artist understood the swoon

of doctrine, its fundamental
musculature, and the human need
to lean against the lusty form,

accept the discourse that assigns
to each of us a winged guardian
whispering into our ringing ears.